Will the next Impala be Front Wheel Drive?
Maybe Lutz is bluffing.
Though it is theoretically scheduled to be a 2010 model, the future of the new Chevrolet Impala is still in doubt, according to industry newspaper Automotive News. According to the report, Bob Lutz, GM’s product boss, says the new model is still up in the air, with the ultimate outcome depending on the fuel economy standards adopted by the current session of Congress. GM and other automakers have vigorously opposed a plan pushed by liberal Democrats to impose a substantially higher fuel mileage standard, while Detroit automakers and Toyota have favored a competing proposal backed by other Democrats and many Republicans that sets a lower standard.
If the fuel standards adopted are too high, the implication is that the rear wheel drive Impala might not happen. It had been planned for the same platform to be used for the upcoming Camaro. If the mileage standards don’t permit that, Lutz says it may go on a front wheel drive platform currently slated to be the basis for the next generation Malibu, the one that will replace the one just introduced.
But building the next Impala and the successor to the new Malibu on the same platform could make it difficult to differentiate the two cars into to distinctly separate vehicles. The platform will support wheelbases of different lengths. Still, the basic architecture would be the same. It could be done: that platform has been designed to support a variety of models produced by various global GM divisions, so adapting it to the Impala would merely be adding one more version. Whether it would be a good idea to do it is another question.
Automotive News says that this is a question that Lutz will probably end up answering, once the fuel standards question is decided. “The large rear wheel drive [Chevrolet] sedan is always on the bubble, depending on what the government does. A lot of the product lineups are up in the air right now and very flexible,” he says.
But is that really true, or is it merely a fluff bluff?
Introduction of the 2010 models is two years away. At two years from introduction, a new model is deeply into the development process, very close to the point that contracts are being let to suppliers. Moreover, at that late stage it is impossible to substitute another model and still meet the target introduction date. So, if GM scraps the current Impala plan, it isn’t going to be introducing a new Impala in 2010 on a different platform.
Nor is there any reason to believe that Congress’ decision on the CAFE fuel economy standards would be relevant to the 2010 Impala. Those standards, regardless of the form in which they are ultimately adopted, are not effective until 2020 at the earliest. So the product cycle of a 2010 model ought not be affected by the legislation. Moreover, if Chevrolet introduces the Volt in 2010, as currently anticipated, and produces the target 60,000 per year once production is in full swing, the mileage of the Volt would give GM a large offset in CAFE mileage for the rest of their car lines. Add to that the reasonable expectation that the new Impala will be offered with a hybrid powertrain, and it becomes difficult to take Lutz’ remarks to Automotive News as accurate.
It is highly unlikely that GM would ever have approved the new Camaro unless it had a plan for amortizing the development costs of the platform over far more vehicle sales than the Camaro can be expected to produce. Despite what Lutz says, it seems far more likely that the Impala was locked in when the Camaro was approved and that the car will be introduce in 2010, as a rear wheel drive model.